At one point while I was watching Looper, a fantasy began to occur to me. In it, I kidnap Rian Johnson, the writer and director of the film. I throw a bag over his head. I tie the script to Looper around his body. Then I throw him into my time machine and Joseph Gordon-Levitt shoots him.
And the script.
Looper, set in the vague future, has a pretty neat idea. In it, assassins (loopers) are paid to go and stand at a certain place at a certain time and kill the man or woman who appears there. These men and women appear from the future and have silver bars attached to their back. If, as with what happens in the film, you yourself are sent back in time, you kill yourself and earn a ton of gold bars. It is, like I said, a neat idea. To fully appreciate it you have to get past that the vague future of Johnson's film is ill defined, with guns reduced to blunderbuss' and gats, and a vague, ill defined sense of poverty throughout. Some people ride hover bikes, but most don't. Most drive cars and live in neighbourhoods pretty much like the ones you and I live in now. What, then, happened to all the guns that we own now is never explained. That's probably a good thing, since any definition would be lame, and only serve to highlight what feels like a passing attempt to leach out some sense of style from steampunk.
Unfortunately, as Looper continues, the bad becomes more dominant than the good. Gordon-Levitt's looper Joe, unsurprisingly, finds himself face to face with Bruce Willis, the older version of himself. Willis, perhaps aware of the fact that Gordon-Levitt is nothing like him as a younger actor, hurls a golden brick at his face, knocks him out and goes on the run. He, that is Willis' old Joe, is here to stop the Rainmaker from reaching power, and killing all retired loopers by sending them back in time to be killed by themselves. It is funny to think of the whole thing is a vague allegory to Hollywood. Doing that even allows you to explain why the Rainmaker's goons look like Coptic Jews. The reason would be a growing sense of anti-Semitism in Johnson, and who knows if he is or isn't, but this was the only good time I had in the film. Bruce Willis hurling gold bars at Joseph Gordon-Levitt and evil Jews running Hollywood. That's enough reason to go back and kill some children, I figure. The actual plot--that Old Joe's wife has been killed when he was taken--is servicable, but if you don't have this hilarious symbolism to entertain you, what you have is Old Joe in the past with a set of numbers. The numbers are the birth date of the Rainmaker, and Old Joe has hit the road to kill the kid, change time, save his wife--
Really, this is your plot, Johnson?
Johnson tries to solve the problem of that plot with a conversation in a diner between Old and Young Joe, wherein Willis states that he doesn't want to get into all that time travel debate shit, that everything is just a possibility now. You groan a little, because you wish one would throw a gold bar at the other in the traditional Hollywood sense, but instead, you find yourself watching as the poorly thought out aspects of the film begin to pile up faster and faster. It becomes a pool in fact, a rising tide that begins to drown all in the film when Emily Blunt and her freaky kid Cid are introduced. No great shakes in figuring out who Cid is, especially since Young Joe ripped the date off Old Joe to get there, and no great shakes in figuring out that the vague telekinesis in the film is, well, not vague in Cid. Of course, he's so goddamn freaky and unpleasant that you want Willis to come up and shoot him in the head, but that would take away from the theme that Johnson establishes: that every bad child will turn out good if they just have a loving mother beside them.
Yes, good family values will save the day.
Yes, all you need is love.
Towards the end, when Looper was well and truly drowning in its own filth, I wondered if I might change my fantasy. Might it not be possible that I could be thrown back in time. That I might be shot before the film began to play. That I could appear with an old time blunderbuss and blow myself away. That I might be spared the wasted idea, the bad dialogue, the simple moralising...
No, I was not.